The Emotional Dance

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The emotional dance of couples:

We meet…date…get married… and then experience either healthy or unhealthy relationship patterns between us and our partners. No matter how our love story unfolds we owe it to ourselves and our partners to be aware of the deeper emotional patterns that are often not discussed or even identified within our romantic relationships. Too often couples enter our doors in distress, holding on by a thread and no idea how their relationship became so fractured . Typically the unspoken theme is around tremendous fear of “what happened and what’s next”. We want to help you and your partner recognize the hope that is still possible even when the relationship feels unrepairable.

The first message that a couple gives the therapist about their emotional connectedness is demonstrated by how the partners sit in relation to each other in the counseling room. It is the most obvious sign that a couple can demonstrate to show the state of their relationship without saying a word. Nonverbal body language between two partners is a good starting point in stripping away facades and beginning an authentic discussion. The couple usually consists of one partner anxiously desperate to keep the relationship together and working hard to engage the other partner. The opposite partner is often already disconnected and presenting to the session in efforts to appease their partner. This partner is often already “emotionally checked out” of the relationship and sometimes even using the session as a “last ditch effort”. The couple can usually verbalize easily how each partner feels wronged by the opposite partner and what they want different in the relationship. However, rarely the two individuals can pinpoint their own roles within the distress of the relationship. This is where the real work lies.

There is a therapeutic value focusing on growing communication skills, quality time, or dividing household duties but the deeper emotions that are driving the partners’ behaviors are the real areas for concentration in the relationship distress. The “Emotional Dance” as Sue Johnson defines is often the driving force to the observable negative behaviors that couples experience. Feeling emotionally insecure in a relationship can lead an individual to either shut down or ramp up. Fear is often the underlying emotion that fuels either of these behavioral patterns and keeps the couple in an emotional dance that is disguised by negative relationship behaviors between the two partners. In the counseling room the couple and the therapist can start the journey into unearthing those underlying unmet emotional needs that weave through the couple’s conflict and distress. Allowing your partner to see you emotionally vulnerable by literally and figuratively “showing up” is the first step in breaking through the underlying fears and forming a solid foundation of trust to build the relationship.

If you and our partner are experiencing relational difficulties and are not sure if couples counseling is the right step for you, I would encourage you to read Sue Johnson’s book “Hold Me Tight”. This books is a great starting point in learning about you and your partner’s roles in the relationship distress and begins the journey of emotional reconnection.

DISCLAIMER: A very wise mentor once gave this therapist excellent ground rules for when working with couples in the counseling world. If a couple presents in relational distress but posses one of the three A’s (Addiction, Abuse, Affair) the individual problem must be addressed first before any relational healing can occur. An unsafe physical or emotional environment is not a breeding grounding for healing and deserves the individual attention and establishment of safety prior to any joint counseling. Eliminating the A’s from the couple’s distress is the beginning path of healing for the relationship, which allows room for the deeper therapeutic work to take place.

About Jessica Ulmer, LPC, NCC

Licensed Professional Counselor for Morning Star Counseling, LLC in Lancaster, Pa. Office locations are East Petersburg and Quarryville.
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